The Night Circus arrives without warning. What was an empty field by day becomes transformed by night. A city of tents appears as if by magic, drawing people through the dusk to the soft-twinkling lights and the smell of warm caramel in the air. When the guests arrive, they hardly know where to go first. One tent contains a frozen world of ice and snow all in shades of white and silver, making the visitor feel as though he has been transported into his own personal snow globe. In another a mysterious woman reads the future in her cards. In another, guests climb to the top of the tent by way of  a maze of soft clouds and, reaching the top, gently float back down to the ground.

Le Cirque des Reves showcases the purely fantastical next to the usual entertainments one might expect - the contortionists, the jugglers and of course, the magicians. What the guests don't realize is that the night circus exists only incidentally as a place to while away an evening: the circus is really a giant game-board. At its center are two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are destined to compete in a battle to out-magic one another, a battle that will lead to the death of one.

Though Erin Morgenstern's book is already in high demand, it is well worth the wait. The Night Circus is a delectable treat of a novel, a fantastical, almost architectural dessert that is almost too beautiful to eat, but you won't be able to resist.

Ever since our stay at the Slocum house in West Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard, I've been curious about the life and voyages of Joshua Slocum. I feel lucky that I chanced upon The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum by Geoffrey Wolff.

It is a wonderful tale of adventure, luck, skill and derring-do. I appreciate the way that Mr. Wolff incorporates history, literary allusions and his own personality into the story. Sometimes an author's intrusion into a story is distracting, but I found the story enhanced by Mr. Wolff's comments and footnotes.

This is one of those books that give you a real sense of the time and place -- sailing for profit is giving way to shipping by steamship. The old ways are again being replaced by the new.

The Brooklyn Bridge has just been completed and Slocum's son remembers the workmen dabbing the topmost masthead of his father's ship the Northern Light by a playful bridge workman. I love that Mr. Wolff stops the story of Slocum to give us a very brief look at the Brooklyn Bridge complete with an excerpt from Hart Crane's poem "To the Brooklyn Bridge".  

A few pages later, Slocum is sailing the Northern Light between Java and Sumatra while Krakatoa is in full eruption. The sea is boiling and "fretting about the ever-changing depth, Slocum ordered the lead line cast, and it came up from the bottom with its tallowed tip melted." Details like this add so much to the reader's enjoyment.

Slocum endures many trials and much controversy, both on land and on the sea -- from mutiny to squalls and battles over payment to some people's disbelief in his solo voyage.  

Much is made of Slocum's love of reading, his shipboard library and his writing skills. Enough examples are given that I now must turn to Slocum's own words in Sailing Alone Around the World.

I'm probably coming late to the party, but are any of you as madly in love with Mythbusters as I am? My 7-year-old and I have been watching them all summer long. I'd tried to get him interested a while back and it didn't take, but I got him with the episode titled Helium Football--what kid wouldn't be overjoyed to hear the helium voice for the first time? He was hooked.

But, I love them too, for loads of reasons: Because I'm a science-y sort, because the people on the show are so smart and cute, because they show a logical progression in their proof process, because they shop at places like that cool aircraft surplus warehouse where they got the vacuum toilet, because they have that giant, highly organized shop full of industrial shelving with boxes and bins of tools and hardware and toys and stuff, and because they have those awesome panel trucks that just say M-5 on the side. Very undercover.

My favorite episodes: Tesla's Earthquake Machine, Mentos/Diet Coke, Hindenburg Disaster, and Killer Whirlpool, all from collection 2.

My son's favorite episodes: Helium Football, Crimes and Mythdemeanors, Killer Whirlpool, and the two different Ninja shows.

There are a few episodes that involve alcohol consumption which may not be appropriate for children, depending on your kiddos age, but are hilarious for adults.

If you love the Mythbusters too, won't you send in a 'Suggestion for Purchase' for the seasons that we do not own yet at MCL? We currently have 1-5, and have ordered 6 and 7, but really we should have them all. C'mon. You know you want them, too.

I love English villages, or, at least, the idea of them: the thatched cottages, the gardens with their exotic-sounding veggies like courgette (zucchini) and Swedes (rutabaga), the endless cream teas, the common area called the green, and the often odd local vicar. Because I've never been to a single English village in all of my trips to Britain (I thought that Thirsk - the home of James Herriot's vet surgery - was, but it's actually considered a market town), most of what I believe about them comes from British television or books.  It could be that what I "know" about villages is not absolutely true, but it's been fun watching how they're portrayed.

My absolute favorite village television show is The Vicar of Dibley, starring the awesome Dawn French. Geraldine Granger, the cute, chubby new girl in town is also the village's first female vicar and at least one of the church council members is NOT pleased.  The cast is made up of some wonderfully eccentric characters including Owen, the randy farmer, Alice, the not-so-bright love interest of the not-so-bright son of the wealthiest man in town and Frank Pickle, the gay secretary who is overly meticulous in his minute-taking endeavors. Much of each episode consists of a council meeting in which serious matters are being considered in often hilarious discussions, although several of the episodes were so moving that I cried. The characters could easily be turned into caricatures, but they all have deeply human cores that are revealed throughout the course of the series and that make them all seem quite possible.

Two other series I've been watching recently are also set in villages or small towns. If you like cozy murder mysteries, try Midsomer Murders. This series has been going on so long that I'm surprised there is anyone left alive in the fictional Midsomer County! Clatterford is more of a town than a village, but you still get the village feel as this show revolves around the small group of people who make up the Clatterford Women's Guild.

The next time I go to England, I must visit a village and find out if everything I've seen on television is real!

I'd been waiting for years to read The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. The first book, The Name of the Wind, came out in 2007. I finally get my copy. I take it home where my husband says "Great!  I've been waiting and waiting to read that!", and swipes it.  ~whimper~  At last, now that he's finally done with it, I've been able to read the book.

Rothfuss isn't a perfect writer and there are flaws in this book and the first, but the pages just flow by like water - all 993 of them. It seems like he just loves words and language. He never misses a chance to describe and expound. The protagonist of the books, Kvothe, is in many ways a trope character for fantasy. He's a hyper-competent red-head, almost a Mary-Sue, who seems to become good at almost anything he tries in no time at all. There's a funny section where he fails to become great at something-only just managing good enough... I won't spoil it further. He's also a teenage boy with all the emotional wisdom and people skills one might expect from a teenager with no adult guidance. The adult Kvothe may or may not be a reliable narrator. He's been a performer since childhood after all, and could be forgiven for putting himself in the best light.

Kvothe has to take a leave of absence from The University after a prolonged conflict with a high noble's son leaves him in a financial and social bind (see the bit above about the lack of wisdom...). He travels to a nearby country and takes service under a wealthy lord, leading to a string of (mis)adventures. Meanwhile the adult Kvothe, who is narrating the story, appears to be waiting to die.

I really really hope it's not another four years until book three of this series comes out. I'd be pleased to be wrong. And for this next series I want to read, I'll be hiding A Dance with Dragons from my husband until I get to read it, even if he did finish the first four books with greater dedication than I showed...

A couple of weeks ago we held a contest. The challenge was to write a haiku review of a book or film. Our winner was Michelle Overby, who got the most votes with this little tribute to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw:

Just then I felt a
presence in the room that had
not been there before.





We were impressed. In fact, there were so many fine entries, we thought we'd share a few more.

Spine not even cracked
Bossypants back at Belmont
Forgive me, Tina

- Lucy Chisler on BossyPants




Ishmael and Queequeg
Went whaling on The Pequod
Not knowing Ahab
- Jeff Palmer on Moby Dick





Southern injustice /
Black man and a chifarobe /
Kids and Boo prevail.

- Lisa Shaw on To Kill a Mockingbird




Four men, sworn scholars
fore-swear their books in favor
of four femmes fatales.

- Kate Karman on Love's Labours Lost by Shakespeare
Victories hard won
So much struggle, sacrifice
They are my heroes

- Latina Anderson on A People's History of the United States 




That movie about
the Disney ride: Too much length
and not enough Depp

- Greg Weber on any Pirates of the Caribbean movies
Guy named Sam-I-am
Does not like green eggs and ham
Until he tries them

- Juliet Morefield on Green Eggs and Ham



and finally...

Flip flip flip
pages turn effortlessly
in long summer days
- Jed Mitchell

Hope the rest of your summer days are spent in languorously turning pages.

I read Pride and Prejudice in high school and college, thankful I had put it behind me. Slumped at a desk with pink-streaked hair and dirty Converses, a marriage plot among ladies of class fell short of resonating with me as a reader. So when someone suggested I read Shades of Milk and Honey —promoted by its publisher as Jane Austen, with magic—I had my reservations. Flash forward one week to me forgetting to feed my grandmother (sorry, Grams)  and missing MAX stops with this book in hand.

Mary Robinette Kowal has won scads of sci-fi and fantasy awards for her short fiction—Hugo, Nebula, Locus, you name it. After reading Shades of Milk and Honey, it’s easy to see why. Her style is easy, her sentences agile, and her dialogue witty. And if there were a few “shews” and “La!’s” thrown in, well, I might have even enjoyed them.  

Shades of Milk and Honey is a story of two sisters, one born with stunning looks and the other born with a stunning mind. Jane Ellsworth is the neighborhood’s best glamourist, expertly conjuring scents, sounds and images that enhance the family home. Jane fights her attraction to a very eligible neighbor, Mr. Dunkirk, while her younger sister loses herself in a maze of feelings for the same man. Their sibling rivalry is full of bitterness, and jealousy, but also moments of kindness. Jane struggles to tame her own passions while keeping a watchful eye out for her sister—and fails, spectacularly, among secret rendezvous and sensational duels.

Kowal’s debut is a light, absorbing read—a perfect choice to enjoy in the Portland sunshine, while it lasts. Be on the lookout for our upcoming Twitter chat with the author on Aug. 11th, from 12-1. Please join the conversation!

I should have started reading the newest series by Elizabeth Moon much sooner. In the late 80's Moon wrote a trilogy called The Deed of Paksenarrion. In a fantasy world, a sheep-farmer's daughter, a big sturdy girl, joins the local Duke's military to avoid an unwanted marriage. She rises to become a paladin and to see that lord chosen as a kingdom's heir. I liked that trilogy quite a bit. I've even held onto my yellowing paperbacks all these years. In the decades since, Moon has written a number of military science fiction novels that just didn't catch my interest, though they've been popular and well received. Recently Moon has gone back to the world of The Deed of Paksenarrion with the start of a new trilogy.  

You don't need to read the first series to enjoy Oath of Fealty, the first in this new trilogy. It has been twenty plus years since I read the original books and I had no trouble falling into this new story. Paks, the heroine of the first trilogy is only a secondary character in this trilogy.

In Oath of Fealty, after the duke, Kieri Phelan, is discovered to be the heir to a neighboring kingdom, he leaves his former holding under the care of his captains, one of whom will be named the new lord in his place. The kingdom Kieri is leaving is in turmoil after the assassination of the king, leaving an untried young prince about to be crowned. To add further to the machinations, the assassin of the young prince's father was one of his other dukes. Now the crown prince must question the traitor's entire family to find how far their service to an evil god and blood magic has spread. That leaves only one reliable person to whom the lands might be entrusted: an aging captain of Kieri's who was cast out of the family as a girl for refusing to practice blood magic. I really need to get my hands on book two, Kings of the North, in short order because the end of Oath of Fealty left me wanting more.

Once in a while, if a librarian is lucky and judged deserving, a co-worker will recommend an especially treasured book. Different from our everyday title-swapping and book banter, these suggestions are usually made privately, with a kind of offhand gravity, and are intended as both gift and compliment. What are these personal favorites like? They're often highly idiosyncratic, and share a certain intensity. In some cases they are their authors' only works. They're always memorable, sometimes hauntingly so. Here are a few of the gifts received from librarians  over many years:

The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout
Through the eyes of a Dutch child on her grandmother's sugar plantation, we see a beautiful, slightly menacing Java, alive with mysteries and scented with spices.

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Forget "The Godfather" - this portrait of the last patriarch of a great house in decline gives a deeper grasp of Sicily than any work of fiction has a right to do.

The Gipsy in the Parlour by Margery Sharp
A fey, ambitious Welsh interloper with a gift for hypochondria insinuates herself into an English country family. Charming and very funny.
The Bear by Marian Engel
Magic realism done right: There is Bear, the totem and archetype, and then there's an actual wild bear. Which turns up at the cabin of a lonely Canadian woman?
Just today, another gift-suggestion: The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame). A meek young woman is handed a fatal (maybe mistaken?) diagnosis, so decides to live out her remaining days being exactly as outspoken as she feels. Sounds irresistible!
And from me? The Viceroy of Ouidah, Bruce Chatwin's fever dream of depravity. The Means of Escape, eight dazzling stories by Man Booker Prize-winner Penelope Fitzgerald.  And anything at all by Rose Tremain - her work is like the ideal box of chocolates, where each bite is a unique, exquisite surprise.

How do you pick books? From the bestseller list? From blogs? Recommendations from friends? By reading reviews in newspapers and magazines? By browsing and scanning the shelves? By using Ask the Librarian?

Attracted by the unusual cover, I recently read The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry. What a terrific surprise! Ginny is a young woman with Asperger's syndrome. She hates loud noises, being touched, and frequently hides in the closet when life becomes too much. Over the years, she has saved scraps of the use of the word "normal" gleaned from newspapers and magazines to prove to herself that normal has many different meanings. She has been sheltered and protected by loving parents but now they are dead in a tragic accident.

She must learn to cope with her grief and with her sister who wants to protect her. Ginny has long used thinking about the tastes and textures of food, and cooking techniques to help calm herself. Now she discovers that she has the ability to cook up family ghosts from their handwritten recipes. What she learns about cooking and ghosts, grief and love and the many ways of being normal make for a lovely book. I dare you not to be touched by this surprisingly good novel.


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